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NASA Astronomers Spot Rare Lunar Meteor Strike
Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)

Audio release: 05-190

In the following seven MP3 audio clips, Marshall expert Bill Cooke discusses a meteor strike on the moon in late 2005.

+ Bill Cooke discusses meteor strike, 1 of 7

Transcript: "We were observing on the night of November 7 with a telescope with a little 10-inch mirror, and on that night around 5:54, we observed a bright flash on the moon. Well, I didn't observe it, and neither did the two guys at the telescope observe it. We found it on the video we'd recorded later, but that's when the flash occurred. That was the impact of what we think is a Taurid meteor, a meteor coming from the direction of the constellation Taurus, hitting the moon at a speed of about 60,000 miles per hour. It produced a fairly bright flash easily seen on the video." (NASA/MSFC)

+ Bill Cooke discusses meteor strike, 2 of 7

Transcript: "So we figure that there are about 250 objects eight pounds and larger that hit the moon every year, and we still don't have a good handle on how many of these objects are produced by meteor showers. So the significance is that we're going into unknown territory here because no one has observed the moon much. Most astronomers regard the moon as a pain because it's all this bright light, and it messes up their other observations. But since NASA is now going back to the moon, we need to start paying attention to it, so we're kind of resurrecting something that's been neglected for a long time." (NASA/MSFC)

+ Bill Cooke discusses meteor strike, 3 of 7

Transcript: "So if you're an astronaut on EVA, you would not want to be close to this because when the meteor hit, it would kick up a lot of hot debris, and this debris has the potential to penetrate the suit. The fact that the moon has a lesser gravity than the Earth, only one-sixth Earth's gravity, plus no atmosphere means the debris can travel quite far from the impact site. So the astronaut, or a lunar habitat, does not have to be very close to the impact site to suffer damage. He can be a considerable distance away and still get hit. So it's important that we categorize these things for that reason. Also, these things produce dust, and as we know, the dust on the moon tends to get in the equipment and all over spacesuits and stuff like that. We need to know that so we can plan for operating on the moon and making sure our equipment functions well over long periods of time." (NASA/MSFC)

+ Bill Cooke discusses meteor strike, 4 of 7

Transcript: "When the meteor hits, the energy is converted into heat and light, and a lot of the heat goes into vaporizing both the meteor and the lunar surface. Some of it turns liquid, so when you see those yellow things coming out of the picture, that's the hot ejecta, the hot fragments being kicked out of the crater, which we calculate would be about 10 feet across, produced by this meteor strike. So you're excavating this hole 10 feet across, and you're ejecting hot fragments, and as these fragments come out, they cool down." (NASA/MSFC)

+ Bill Cooke discusses meteor strike, 5 of 7

Transcript: "And since we figure that the meteor was a Taurid meteor, all members of a meteor shower move at the same speed, so if you're a Leonid, you move at 40 miles per second. If you're a Taurid, you move around 16 miles per second. So if it's a Taurid, which it most likely is, we know what its speed is, and from the brightness of the flash, we're able to calculate how much energy was released. Then from there, it's simple math to figure out how massive the impactor is, and then you can apply some relations that were developed a long time ago to figure out how big the hole is. So it's pretty simple once you measure the brightness -- and the key is measuring the brightness and measuring the brightness of that flash over time. Once you've got that down, you've got it made in the shade. Fortunately, we had stars visible around the moon, and we were able to use those to help us calibrate the brightness of the flash." (NASA/MSFC)

+ Bill Cooke discusses meteor strike, 6 of 7

Transcript: "Marshall has the Meteoroid Environments Office, which is part of the Space Environments Team in the Engineering Directorate, and our job is to develop new meteor models for spacecraft design, such as the CEV and CLV. Also, we do meteor shower predictions for spacecraft in orbit and elsewhere, even out as far as interplanetary space -- spacecraft on the way to Mars, for example. So our job is to not only to model meteor activity, but to forecast that activity so spacecraft people will know when to batten down the hatches. And on the moon, this would be particularly important because unlike on Earth, there's no atmosphere on the Moon. People can go out on Earth and enjoy a meteor shower and not worry about getting bonked on the head because the atmosphere protects them. It burns the meteors up. On the moon, there's no such protection. So future explorers and colonizers of the moon are going to need to know when these things occur so they can head indoors because they don't have the luxury of the atmosphere to protect them from all these rocks incoming, and that's kind of our job." (NASA/MSFC)

+ Bill Cooke discusses meteor strike, 7 of 7

Transcript: "We used a 10-inch telescope and a commercial CCD detector, and we ran the video straight from the CC detector into the computer by a fire wire, and we recorded two hours of video just to test it out. And like I say, we were analyzing the video through a movie player, some software we developed in my group to detect meteors, and we noticed this brilliant flash there. But all this stuff is available to a serious amateur. Total cost for what we used was about 1,200 bucks." (NASA/MSFC)

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